A myth is a story that spreads out a psychological blueprint for a certain kind of human experience. The story of Parsifal and his search for the Holy Grail is a myth about what is required for a boy to reach a complete sense of manhood; the myth of Eros and Psyche shows what a girl must do to become a fully self-actualized woman. Robert A. Johnson, author of He: Understanding Masculine Psychology and She: Understanding Feminine Psychology, points out that basic human needs and motivations "have remained stable over the years" (He, p. ix). Because human nature does not change, we can learn about human behavior from ancient stories. A myth can be seen as society's collective dream. Analysis of a myth is like analyzing a dream in which all the characters represent parts of the self. In this paper we will compare the journeys toward masculinity and femininity as seen in the twelfth century myth of Parsifal and the Holy Grail and in the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche.
For a boy in a state of unenlightened consciousness, the journey toward conscious manhood begins with an experience of alienation in which he is awakened to the fact that the world is not perfect. This painful experience causes a wound to the psyche which must be healed. In the myth of Parsifal the wound is to the King's thigh. The thigh is an ancient euphemism for male private parts. In Biblical times a man put his hand on his genitals when he swore an oath to tell the truth in a court of law. So the wound to the thigh, psychologically, is a wound that hampers relationships and reproduction in the physical sense and prevents seeing and expressing truth in the spiritual sense. The wound impels the youth to search for wholeness which can only come with growth and enlightenment. If the boy ignores the wound, or refuses to deal with it, and his ego remains in this wounded state, his whole life subsequently will entail suffering, an accumulation of unsolved problems, and failure to prosper. Progress cannot be made toward wholeness without effort on the boy's part. He has to move from the wounded, alienated stage and go on a quest for integration, both internally and externally, before he can be a man and experience beauty and holiness.
A girl's journey toward womanhood begins with the interior goddess Aphrodite, who "reigns in the unconscious, symbolized by the waters of the sea" (She, p. 3). The girl's Aphrodite self is paradoxical because she fights to hang on to the old but demands that the new be given a chance as well. Aphrodite is that part of herself which provides a mirror through which she sees the meaning of her experiences. While the masculine principle focuses on exterior problems, the feminine applies to the interior world where every event is scrutinized for meaning. This Aphrodite femininity is signified by the ocean because of its primal creative power, which has a way of suddenly erupting and demanding growth -- or suddenly erupting and fighting the new. Aphrodite is the part of self that pushes Psyche to emerge from the old as a new, more understandable form of energy. But, as Johnson points out, there is "always a collision" between the primal Aphrodite consciousness and the new form which is called Psyche. Psyche means soul, that is, the true identity which the woman must learn to express on her way to wholeness.
For Psyche the task is to learn to relate to Aphrodite. Unlike the masculine quest, her journey is interior. Aphrodite's abundance and primal power comes from the sea, while Psyche comes from a drop of dew. The feminine goal is to integrate these two parts of her self, the drop of dew, which signifies a fragile, emerging sense of ego, pure, innocent, and beautiful with the untamed primal power which is her Aprodite self. For Psyche, the initial painful experience is being admired from afar but misunderstood, intensely lonely, and not able to relate one-to-one with others. It is similar to the alienating experience of males, in that both are painful and demand spiritual growth, but it's not a single event that happens in the exterior world; Psyche's awareness is of her interior world and develops over time.
For the male it is necessary that he humble himself in order to find a cure for his wound and find wholeness. Jesus called it becoming "as a little child." In the Grail myth, the cure is in Parsifal, a name which means "innocent fool." Parsifal, the hero in the myth, represents that part of the self which remains childlike, hopeful, and naive, which doesn't know enough to be defeated by great obstacles. In this frame of mind, Parsifal sets out on his quest for manhood. At some point he must defeat the Red Knight who represents his uncontrolled instincts and learn to apply that energy usefully. I remember that moment for me. I didn't like to do housework. I wanted other people to clean up after me. I didn't think I should have to do it. Then one day I looked around at the dirty house, the dishes, the garbage, the clothes on the floor, and I thought, nobody else is going to do this for me. I'm the one who has to do it. It was the moment when I accepted responsibility for my life, to make it what it would be. Johnson says this is the moment when a man moves from adolescence into adulthood. Parsifal also has to leave his mother before he can "meet" the woman within himself. More important, he must defeat his "mother complex," or the desire to return to childish dependency and be cared for by his mother.
Psyche's problem is dealing with her paradoxical self. Aphrodite is so paradoxical that the two -- Psyche and Aphrodite -- are often at odds (if not at war) with each other. For example, Psyche wants to find a husband and get married; Aphrodite does not want to give up the freedom of girlhood. But it is Aprodite who does the matchmaking! Psyche is the part of herself who gets pushed and pulled and at some point, the Aphrodite self will want to destroy the Psyche self by the introduction of Eros or love. The theory is that for women marriage is both death and resurrection. Death-Mountain in the myth signifies the death of childlike innocence, naivete, and lack of responsibilities. The garden of paradise in the myth signifies her new life with her husband, or resurrection, where she is supposed to live "happily ever after." However, she now has a masculine principle to deal with which is his desire to be unquestioned in his authority and unseen -- that is, the masculine desire to guard his internal world and not let anyone else see it. Particularly, he does not wish to probe and expose his inner motivations as the feminine principle demands.
According to Jung, no man is completely masculine, nor should he be, just as no woman is completely feminine. Both male and female express a mixture of characteristics. To be completely human, a man must accept the feminine side of himself (his anima), which is not as dominant but still very necessary if a man wants to be whole and complete. Likewise, a woman needs to experience competence and independence which are masculine qualities (her animus). In the Parsifal myth the woman (his anima) laughs at Parsifal, and he is greatly rewarded. When a man can laugh at himself, his life takes on richness and meaning. His anima protects him from overwhelming moods, like depression, for example, which keep him from being "master of his own interior house" (He, p. 37). Parsifal was warned not to seduce or be seduced by the fair maiden. The fair maiden is, again, his anima. He seduces her when he insists that happiness must come from a source outside of himself. He is seduced when he allows himself to fall into moods that keep him from participating fully and actively in the events and relationships of his exterior life. So a man needs to relate to his anima in ways that promote health. So, too, a woman must come to terms with her animus, the masculine side of herself. One of her tasks is to learn just how much masculine energy she needs and take to herself only that much. She has to learn to "sort the seeds," that is to make order out of the chaos around her and learn to focus on one thing at a time in her daily life. She has to develop Eagle Vision in order to appreciate the "vastness of life" and pick out what is important to addresss.
Both men and women have shadow selves which must be acknowledged. The shadow self in women is signified by the wicked sisters in…